Dec 13 2013
The movie CBGB is a 2013 American historical film about the former New York music venue CBGB. It focuses on the story of how Hilly Crystal setup a mall bar/club that would go down in history as the birthplace of American underground rock’n'roll and punk. The movie stars Alan Rickman as Hilly (in probably his best performance) along with a supporting cast that includes, Ashley Green, Donal Logue, Stana Katic, Freddy Rodriguez as his closest friends and supporting roles by Ryan Hurst, Johnny Galecki, Justin Bartha, Taylor Hawkins & Malin Akerman. The movie films original music by several of the bands that would make their name at CBGB and go on to fame, played by actors.
Hilly Crystal is a down on his luck, divorced and twice bankrupt middle aged man who seems to know good music but has no business sense. Borrowing money from his aged mother he buys a run down bar with a cockroach infested kitchen. He takes the help of friend Merv Ferguson and the homeless drunk Idaho to set up the bar and make it semi-presentable. And there is Jonathan, Hilly’s dog who leaves huge clumps of dog poop around the bar. They build a small stage in one corner where Hilly wants local bands to play their original music. Initially Hilly meant to have country, bluegrass and blues bands playing there (hence the name CBGB) but it would become the birthplaces of the punk & new wave scene in New York. He hires Taxi as the sound engineer for a small pay and then auditions bands to see if he likes their music. His line is “If it’s too loud, I’m walking” meaning they don’t get the gig. His estranged daughter Lisa also comes and joins the club as she needs a place to stay and tries to manage things. Over time he has Television, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Blondie & Patti Smith play their original music there well before they became famous. All along the way a lot of free drinks and some free food is served, although Hilly doesn’t tolerate people taking drugs in the toilet. Money is still tight as the club isn’t really making much due to Hilly not having a business acumen and not willing to let his well meaning daughter take charge of finances, which causes her to leave at one point.
Still the Ramones gets signed and go on their way to flory as does Blondie and the others. Along with the main storyline there is the subplot of two young men Legs McNeil (Peter Vack) and John Holmstrom (Josh Zuckerman) who start their own Punk magazine joining future filmmaker Mary Harron to do interviews of the up & coming stars and publish the magazine, which they sell at CBGB. At one point they also meet & interview Lour Reed who was already a star then. Wanting to do more, Hilly invests a lot of his money into managing a badly-behaved punk band called The Dead Boys whose frontman (Justin Bartha) slashes himself on stage with a knife and strangles himself with the mic wire to the point of passing out! Hilly gets ex-Goldie & the Gingerbreads singer turned producer Genya Raven (Stana Katic) to produce their debut album and gives them money to go on the road. However they crash the truck that Hilly loaned them and their drummer is hospitalized in critical condition (he would make it). With possible foreclosrue as he has lost all his money, Hilly almost gives up and goes to seek refuge at the old farm where he grew up and the kindly old man who is the current owner lets him stay for a few days. However once he is back in New York, Hilly gets a pleasant surprise – Merv & Lisa had arranged a sizeable donation from well wishers so that the club can stay afloat and pay their bills. Renewed with a purpose, Hilly lets Lisa manage the finances and continues to keep the bar & club.
As the movie ends, they audition a new band from the UK who wants the honour of playing at CBGB and Hilly auditions them – it’s The Police and they play “Roxanne”. Hilly is enthusiastic and remarks to Merv that there is something there. During the closing credits shows the actual footage of the members of Talking Heads thanking Kristal for his early support during their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And Hilly walks on to the stage to a standing ovation. The real Hilly died in 2007 from complications of lung cancer, aged 75. It’s an ok movie, which I liked quite a bit, even though most critics thought that the movie didn’t do justice to the club or Hilly and was a safe almost sit-com style of a movie. I dunno the whole story behind the club and the scene, just some artists and their music, so for me, it’s a 7 outta 10!